Intentionally lying is supposed to be a fireable offense within the New York City Police Department. But the city’s police watchdog agency found that 181 NYPD officers had lied to the board in the past decade, and not a single one was fired for it. And just five cops were sanctioned at all for the downgraded charge of “misleading.”
That’s according to a report out Monday from civil rights organization LatinoJustice PRLDEF reviewing 144 cases involving 181 officers who the Civilian Complaint Review Board found to have made a false official statement.
“The results show that the NYPD has utterly failed to take lying by officers seriously, refusing to discipline officers in the face of incontrovertible evidence that they lied,” concludes the report written by LatinoJustice’s Andrew Case, Meena Oberdick and Tayler Szabo.
The NYPD’s patrol guide takes a clear stance against lying, reading “Intentionally making a false official statement regarding a material matter will result in dismissal from the Department, absent exceptional circumstances.” But the report argues that the past four NYPD commissioners, who have had the final say on discipline arising from misconduct cases before the CCRB, are not following the department’s standard, and not firing officers for lying.
In one case reviewed by LatinoJustice, Officer Ali Hassan told CCRB investigators that he had not used his police baton at all while on patrol during Black Lives Matter protests on May 30, 2020. But when shown video evidence of him swinging his nightstick, apparently hitting a protester, and later using it to push another protester, Hassan changed his story and admitted to using his baton. The NYPD didn’t discipline Hassan for the use of force, or for lying about it..
The CCRB has a high standard for recommending the charge of an untruthful statement. Of the 14,990 cases it fully investigated between 2011 and 2019, it only found that cops made a false official statement 169 times – a rate of just 1%. But of that small percentage, the NYPD substantiated the CCRB’s finding in just five cases. “The NYPD re-categorized each of these false statements as “misleading” and made each officer forfeit between fifteen and thirty vacation days,” the report reads. “None of the officers was fired.”
The authors see that as a problem. “The NYPD’s policy of disregarding these findings means that officers aren’t held accountable, and future criminal defendants are denied fair trials when officers’ history of lying is not fully disclosed.”
The NYPD press office is writing off the report as biased. “The report by Latino Justice, an advocacy organization, is by no means an objective examination of the facts,” the press office said in a statement emailed to City & State. “It is rife with inaccuracies and fundamental misunderstandings of the processes between CCRB and the NYPD. Among the many falsehoods in the report is the assertion that an officer denying an allegation to avail themselves of due process is itself a “false statement”. Another basic error is to blame the NYPD for failure to act on cases that have not been turned over by CCRB due to CCRB’s delays in completing investigations or failures to move forward with prosecutions.”
But the NYPD did not deny that it rarely if ever disciplines officers that the CCRB accused of lying. And experts say that hurts the entire system.
“The vast majority of police officers are truthful and serve honorably,” said Alissa Marque Heydari, deputy director for the Institute for Innovation in Prosecution at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, which has released a report on how prosecutors can track police misconduct, including lying. “However the inability or unwillingness of police departments to terminate the few who have a documented history of lying undermines prosecutors’ ability to deliver justice, and also undermines our legal system.”
Lying cops have gotten an increasing amount of attention in the past few years. Gothamist has done extensive reporting on New York City district attorneys offices’ internal databases of police officers with credibility problems. Gothamist has also reported on how few officers get punished for lying to the CCRB. LatinoJustices’s report built on that, adding case files provided by Freedom of Information Law requests. Such disciplinary files were shielded from public records requests for years under Civil Rights Law Section 50-a, but that was repealed in the wake of the 2020 protests following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.